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tv   [untitled]    April 12, 2012 11:30pm-12:00am EDT

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stringham, the outcome was kind of a shock to both sides. the idea was the stringhams' warships would bombard for tatteras and clark the entrance to hatteras sound. under the cover of that bombardment, u.s. soldiers led by that lion of war, benjamin butler, would land on the beach and storm the fort. now, this was the first serious attempt the united states had ever made to conduct what today we would call a joint operation, landing on a hostile shore. and as might be predicted, not everything went exactly as planned. one of my favorite slides i'm going to show you today is this one. i have no idea what this fellow is up to. it looks to me as if he's going to catch that boat coming a shore at the crest of that way. but here's the army and the navy cooperating together in a combined operation. it didn't really matter, though, because the forts under attack
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were overwhelmed by that heavy union naval ordinance, and soon, even before butler would get his men to line up, fort hatteras surrendered and the union gained access into the north carolina sounds. now, this was a bracing little victory for the north, and an even more consequential one occurred three months later in november of 1861, this one aimed at port royal and south carolina, a little further down the coast. located almost exactly halfway between charleston and savannah, port royal was ideally located to constitute a base for the south atlantic blockading squadron. this time the naval mission would be led by captain, now flag officer and later rear admiral, samuel francis dupont
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who emerged as the union hero of this war. dupont's plan was pretty straightforward. as in north carolina, he would guard the sound, and once they were suppressed, then the army could come in and take possession. i've been tempted to say something about the navy winning a little battle and the army coming in and grabbing the glory, but i won't do that today. so on december 7 of 1861, dupont led a column of a union army into the sound. they developed a pattern of line ahead formation, passing the middle of the channel between the two ports and then turning to port to pass fort walker one by one at a range of about 800 yards, about half a mile. and after the third pass, the federal gunners had disabled most of the fort's guns, the confederates were down to only about 500 pounds of powder and
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accepting what seemed to them to be the inevitable, they brought down their flag and evacuated their forts and the offshore islands. this victory did a lot to release the incubus of bull run off the backs of northern citizens, and strategically it provided the south atlantic squadron the base it absolutely had to have to make that blockade effective. for the rest of the war, only hampton roads here in virginia surpassed port royal, south carolina in importance as a union naval base. indeed, it's hard to imagine how the north could have sustained that blockade at all without the base of port royal. so what was it like, then, to serve on this blockade as it became increasingly effective and is now sustained by basis along the south atlantic coast? these next several slides, by the way, are from the sketchbook of charles ellory steadman, who
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was the ship's doctor on the u.s.s. huron, one of the vessels on the blockade, and he kept a sketch book which provides just about the only contemporary images of the blockade that we have today. the union sail oors who kept th watch and fed the engines and manned the guns on these blockading vessels from virginia to texas found life at sea mostly an endless tedium of routine. they spent enter days focused in one direction or the harbors in another direction the black smoke that would be a sign of the ports. sure enough, time began to hang very heavy on the watchers.
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night, though, was the most dangerous time, for that was when the blockade runners were more likely to attempt to slip in or out of port in the middle of a moonless night or perhaps during a rain squall, maybe both. a slightly darker shadow would become visible off in the complete darkness. remember, everybody is running blacked out now so they can't be seen at night. wary of firing into a friend because it might actually be another one of the blockade ships, an officer of the deck might light up what were known as costin flares, lighting a code in the night signals. if the appropriate response was not forthcoming, that probably led to a rocket being fired into the air and then everybody, sailorz, feet pounding on the board as they ran into the guns, bumping into each other in the darkness trying to haul the guns out, the blinding shot of the
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m muzzle, blinding them for a few minutes, and then as quickly as it had begun, it was over. the men angry about their missed opportunity and the officers frustrated. it was kind of a schizophrenic lifestyle. weeks of nothing and then moments of frenetic activity. there was some relief from this existence. periodically a supply ship would show up from port royal bringing supplies to the blockading vessels, food, coal and other supplies. and it would be ferried over in rowboats like this. you can imagine the disaster that had on the boats rocking about in a busy harbor. less frequently, individual ships would be returned to port royal for repair on their engines or more serious repairs. they also established floating
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machine shops. if you watched harold's talk, he had a drawing of one of those floating machine shops in port royal. in fact, i may have one as well. not as good, though. for the men on board these ships, the return of fort royal had an opportunity to go to shore. it's not like new york city, but still, it's solid ground beneath your feet and that's a nice break. those visits ashore also offered union soldiers their first glimpse of southern slavery. black refugees along the south atlantic coast frequently flagged down passing vessels or even rode out in canoes or handmade rafts to seek asylum with the union blockaders. which is ellory steadman's sketch of one family coming aboard. most weren't as well dressed as this fellow seems to be. most, perhaps, of the younger men were taken into the naval
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service. other families, elderly people, women, children were then colonized along the coast of the on shore islands where they made a rehearsal for freedom in sustaining themselves, growing vegetables for their own sustenance and even growing cash cows for export and managing to make a tidy little profit. meanwhile, the men who volunteered for navy service became part of the crews, the first truly integrated military force in american history. there were, of course, black soldiers in the civil war, as we all know, but they were deployed in segregated regiments. hard to do that on a ship. ships are crowded places. about 15% of those crews, 15 to 18%, were made up of african-americans. many of them as former slaves known in the vernacular of the day as contrabands.
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for the confederates, blockades were more of a nuisance. blockade running sustained their armies in the field. when blockades were still quite porous, blockade runners became fairly prosperous for their endeavors. some argued that blockade runners should be run by the government, but that ran against southern society, and both secretary of the navy and secretary of the army decided to leave blockade running to the entrepreneurs. that in hindsight was clearly a lost opportunity for the south. for instead of bringing in the kind of materials the confederacy desperately needed, the profit-driven blockade runners brought in what was more
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lucrative. the cliche that comes to mind is rhett butler. it was true that the market, more than the needs of confederate armys, often determined the cargos. the pattern of trade, which is indicated on this slide, usually began in england, france or belgium with legal merchantmen shipping their goods in traditional trans-oceanic ocean ships, carrying them to a port nearer the united states. the most popular were bermuda, nasa in the bahamas and close to cuba. there the cars would be transferred from these big fat merchant ships into sleek, narrow, especially designed blockade runners, many modelled after the clyde river steamers and so-called clyde steamers. low, fast, sidewheeled or propel
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ler driven vessels painted gray to blend with the sea at night. once underway from one of these interim ports, they become subject to capture from the moment they left british or spanish waters. every speck on the horizon was a potential foe and blockade runners maneuvered to avoid discovery. they also tried to plan their runners just so they appeared offshore at dusk so they could make that run into the final port at night. thomas taylor, who served as a supercargo, or what was the owner's agent essentially on board, the english-built steel-hull erks dred runner ban recorded his feelings in a diary as he made that run in. he's making the run into wilmington, north carolina in 1863, and he wrote, nothing i have ever experienced can compare with it.
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hunting, pig sticking, steeple chasing, big game shooting, polo, i have done a little of each, all have their thrilling moments but none can approach running a blockade. pig sticking, anybody? help me with that one. their luck ran out on the fifth attempt when she was spotted well out to sea by the armed army transport ship, fulton. more about that in a minute. hulled by the fulton's second shot, the banshee rounded two and dropped her flag in a token of surrender. now, the experience of the banshee was kind of a metaphor for blockade running generally. despite several successful and very profitable voyages, she ended up, after all, a prize of the yankees.
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her number of successful runs, four, turns out to be the average number of successful runs for blockade runners in the south atlantic coast. and even with her eventual loss and the loss of that last cargo, the initial runs she made yielded a substantial profit for her owners. of course, every ship that escaped through the blockade as the banshee did four times was fodder for the opposition newspapers in the north who attacked the navy and secretary wells in particular, james gordon bennett, publisher and editor of the influential new york herald was a particularly virulent critic who escorted the navy regularly. the capture of the banshee by an army transport -- that wounds me, by the way -- filled bennett with glee. in his editorial the next day, it was blistering with his
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treatment of the navy department. the banshee defied every ship in our navy to capture her, but when she was at last run to ground, it will be noted, it was not by one of our naval vessels but by an army transport. this was simply more evidence, as far as bennett was concerned, that wells was as obstinate as he is ignorant and that he should be removed at once in favor of some competent person. secretary wells in the audience here this morning? i don't want to get into trouble here. lincoln, however, whom bennett described as a great deal more kind than just, stood by his embattled secretary of the navy who remained in the cabinet for the duration of the war. and, in fact, the duration of the lincoln presidency. the newspaper stories did not deter lincoln or wells in their purpose, but they did bother the men on the blockade. this sketch, by the way, which is also from steadman, shows the
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men on the huron staring out over the horizon in a rainstorm, their eyes peeled, looking for every possible sign of a violator and his sarcastic caption if you can't quite read it at the bottom reads, the want of vigilance in our blockading vessels see 1863, 1864. they were tired of hearing this. well, the confederacy sought to break this blockade in several ways. they knew they could not match union numbers, so they experimented with new technology. here in hampton roads, as we know, they hoped that an armored warship could achieve that objective. after the stunning success of the virginia on the 8th of march, sinking the cumberland and the congress, inflicting the worst defeat on the united states navy in its history until december 7, 1941.
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on march 8, confederate authorities then agreed to build more, as many as they possibly could. they actually started a total of 52 of them, although the industrial bottleneck for them was the availability of iron, armor and particularly maritime engine plants which they simply couldn't build themselves and had trouble getting in through the blockade. a vicious circle. they did build some, however, and in january of 1863, two of them, the chicora and the palmer state, got past the charleston, to declare that the blockade had been lifted. though it was back in place again the next day. charleston authorities also tried to use, again playing the technology card, semi-submersible david boats, as these were known. these have a steam engine plant
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so they don't generally completely go under water, just a little crest showing above the water so that that stack had access to air. the forerunners of modern torpedo boats today, as well as we know, a working submarine, the h.l.hunley which did successfully sink the tonic. in the end, however, these innovative weapons and tactics, while certainly troublesome, did not lift or break the blockade. and the union managed a few naval innovations of her own. like this one. more about which, of course, later today. the blockade was becoming
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increasingly effective. the difficulties of the southern economy were becoming impossible to ignore. to be sure, many of those difficulties were the product of a collapsing internal system, and many in the fact began to resent the fact that blockade running was fast degenerating into an illicit and unpatriotic trade. with unconscious irony -- i love this passage -- confederate planters complained that the fabulous profits made by blockade runners were enriching a small class of moneyed men at the top of the income scale. imagine that, small class of wealthy men making decisions for the whole society. what may planters think of that? the richmond inquirer decried the unbecoming vanity displayed by the elaborate wardrobes of
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the richest merchants unsuitable for a nation fighting for its survival. the way to curtail this disgrace ful extravagance was for the government to regulate all trade. this, of course, flew directly in the face of that doctrine's state rights, but the weakening confederate economy led to a popular clamor for the richmond government to take over the trade entirely. in february of 1864, jefferson davis got the confederate congress to pass a law that required all outbound blockade runners to reserve half of their cargo space for government-owned cotton. and a month later, he urged on congress another law forbidding the importation of any of those high value and very profitable luxury goods that had been the common cargos in the first two years of the war. it was a long list, and i'm going to share some of it with
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you. see if you can catch the hint of a theme here. here's what was banned. ale, beer, rum, brandy, billiard tables, furniture, carpeting, tapestry, carriages, lace, jewelry, dolls, clothes, glass, marble, fur, hats, paintings, statues, wallpaper, perfumes, playing cards and velvet, as well as any kind of wine including champagne, claret, madeira and sherry. now, that's a violation of state rights. of course, there was considerable grousing about all of this, not only from the companies that stood to lose future profits from the importation of these goods but also from state rights governors like zebulon vance in north carolina and joe brown in georgia who believed that richmond was becoming all too intrusive in the lives of southern citizens. the key question here, of
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course, is did it work? i promised you i would try to answer this question, and so i shall attack that. most historians who tried to answer the question about the legitimacy, the value, the importance, the impact of the union blockade do so by appealing to statistics. you've all heard the old saw, that there are liars and there are damned liars and then there are statisticians. as we'll see in an effort to answer the question relying solely on statistics is as likely to breed skepticism as to the process as to resolve the question. its numbers can be used to make very different and indeed d diametrically opposite reports. steam-powered vessels attempted to run the blockade, including our friend the banshee. those steamers made an average
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of four successful trips, that is, two round-trips, two in, two out, per vessel. that works out to 1300 attempts to run the blockade of which over 1,000 were successful. in other words, statistics prove that steam-powered blockade runners made it successfully through the blockade 77% of the time. fact 2. of those 300 steamers, union warships captured 136 of them and 85 more were destroyed, run into the shore by pursuing vessels or lost at sea for a total of 221. thus, statistics prove that 73% of all steam-powered vessels that tried to run the blockade were destroyed or captured. in other words, both of these statements are true. three-quarters of all attempts to run the blockade were successful, three-quarters of all ships that tried it were
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destroyed. a better way, perhaps, to measure the impact of the blockade is to calculate how much the confederacy was able to import during the war to sustain its economy and its war effort. and on the whole, it must be acknowledged that the confederacy did indeed manage to import a sufficient number of rifles and cannon and powder and shot to sustain its armies for four years. the south imported at least 400,000 rifles, 2 million pounds of lead, 2 million pounds of salt peter. it came from a book by steve wise who was undoubtedly correct saying, the military would have been without proper supplies of arms, bullets and powder. conceded. the fact that rebel armies managed to sustain themselves despite the blockade, however, does not mean that the effects of the blockade were not felt elsewhere in the confederacy.
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they became to so prized that t sent coffee beans in place of pins and diamonds. the shortage of these contributed to hoarding, speculation, inflation and affected civilian moral. mo moreover, it's necessary to consider not only what was brought in but what was sent out. as a union assistant naval secretary gustavos fox put it, the rebellion was sustained by not what enter eth into their ports but by what proceeded out. the southern economy was almost entirely dependent on its production of cash crops for export. especially, of course, king cotton. measuring how much the blockade measured exports turned out to be relatively simple.
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in the last year of peace before the blockade was in place, the cotton ex portd 3 billion bales of cotton. the south imported less than 3,000 bales of cotton. cotton exports fell further. to be sure, the price of cotton also went up as exports declined, but if the price of cotton rose, so, too, did the price of those goods the south was trying to buy overseas. marine engines, railroad machinery, rifle cannon and only some of the modern breach-loading rifles. in the end, the south used its stockpiled cotton as arm or for its coastal gun replacements. they said the shortfall and southern revenues for exporting
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cotton rivalled, if not exceeded, the southern government's total expenditures on its navy for the whole war. given that relatively simple, cost-effective analysis suggested that the union blockade was worth the effort. so what is the bottom line here? i think it's this. that despite the apparently porous character of the union blockade, the cumulative effect of the reduction and the south cotton exports, the loss of its coastline and eventually the production of its major seaports seriously undermined the government and its war effort. if the blockade was never airtight, which it wasn't, it was constricting enough. the south was constantly gasping for economic breath. i love that phrase. i borrowed it from william roberts and his book. that slow asphyxiation, combined with the reduction and the size of the logistic base from which the confederacy could draw supplies for its armies, so
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isolated lee's indomitable army in virginia that in the end it had no choice but to surrender. almost certainly, the north could have won the civil war without the blockade. but almost as certainly, the blockade made the war shorter, and in doing so, probably saved many thousands of lives. now, this weekend, of course, we observe the attempt southerners made to lift that blockade by employing revolutionary technology. and the union response to that effort in producing an even more revolutionary warship. the union not only matched the south in employing this new weaponry, it then went on to build more than 80 monitors and the blockade remained intact. thank you very much. i look forward to your questions. [ applause ]
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>> and if you'll come to the microphone over here, they can get it on the tape for cspan. yes, ma'am. >> thank you. were all the blockade ships steam powered, or were some of them dependent only on sail? >> that's a very good question. the short answer is they really needed to be steam powered, but it took them a while to figure this out. initially they did send sailing ships down to the blockade. remember, the union is gathering together whatever ships it possibly can. it's sweeping the har bores of philadelphia, baltimore and new york for anything that floats that could carry a gun. so there were sailing ships that attempted it, but they discovered sailing ships couldn't do it. they couldn't hold their position in shore for a making tide for fear of running aground. so certainly by '63, all the sailing ships had been taken out of service on the blockade, sent to do some other mission overseas, touring the mediterranean, for example, and
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all of the blockaders were steam-powered ships. the most famous, perhaps, sailing power warship of the blockade was the u.s.s. america which a few years before had won a very famous sailing race and won a silver cup that we still compete for called the america's cup. so the america was one of the blockading ships early but, sad to say, wasn't very good at it. yes, sir. >> could you speak to some of the details of the prize money system that would incentivize union navy personnel to try and capture those blockade runners? >> absolutely. prize money had a long history all the way back to sail, back to france deck and before, first to encourage them to enlist them all and then to stay in those boring, tedious jobs off the southern coast. the way it worked was any vessel captured by a united states warship, the value of that vessel sold at auction, the value of its entire


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